By Liz Lopez
It is possible you may have already heard of the New Zealand comedy-adventure feature film written and directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Boy), Hunt for the Wilderpeople, especially if you followed the films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January and the SXSW Film Festival in Austin this past March. Unfortunately, I missed it during both screenings in the Festival Favorites Section of SXSW, but after hearing great buzz about it I decided to view it as it approaches the theatrical release. I plan to do my best to talk to friends about this, as it has so many themes in it that may appeal to individuals who work with children, or children/family issues, no matter who is part of the family unit. Although it is billed as a comedy and adventure for this child, it has its share of drama with this young boy who has not known love and understanding from anyone, until one woman agrees to love him, despite reluctance from her husband. As we learn through the film, this reluctance changes because of the circumstances, creating a change for both the elder and the youth as they enter the next stages in their lives.
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a heavy-set pre-teen boy who has been in a series of urban foster families and group homes for years and is considered “bad” for all the mischief he continues to get into. A harsh and abrasive child-services worker, Paula (Rachel House) and a law enforcement officer associate, Andy (Oscar Kightley) drop the child off on a remote farm with an older couple, a very positive Bella (Rima Te Wiata), with an unemotional husband, Hec (Sam Neill). Ricky creates and recites haikus as part of his therapeutic training in the past. He has seen some things in his life, in an urban setting, so his new “auntie” Bella shows him how things are done to survive – especially grabbing a meal while on the run. He learns there is a new meaning to that phrase. While she shows unconditional love, Hec wants no part of raising him. Unfortunately, it is not long after Ricky settles in and accepts the love and a home to call his own that things change. At that point, Ricky knows he will not return to a society that has rejected him in many ways and the journey begins for a new life and his dog, Tupac.
The screenplay for Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Waititi is based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. This is the third feature for Dennison (Shopping, Paper Planes) and I loved his performance. With this talent, I have no doubt he can be cast in other productions that recognize what he is capable of doing. Waititi has a small role in the film as a preacher. Other cast members include: Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Cohen Holloway, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Rhys Darby, Troy Kingi, Taika Waititi, Hamish Parkinson, Stu Giles and Lloyd Scott.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is rated PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) and the running time is 1 hour 41 minutes. In Austin, it opens on July 15th at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and Regal Arbor Cinema.